Summary: When God gets involved, words such as "likely" and "unlikely" don’t apply.
(Note: the title comes from a message by Rick Warren; however, the sermon itself is original)
What are the odds of the Cleveland Browns playing in the Super Bowl this year? They’re about 1-in-15, according to the Las Vegas bookmakers, with a 1-in-20 chance of actually winning the big game. That’s not as good as some teams. But it’s not terrible either. It’s certainly better than the Bengals. Their chances of claiming the Vince Lombardi trophy stand at 500-to-1. And yet, regardless of the odds, I guarantee that both of these clubs will be playing football this afternoon, along with twenty-three other NFL teams. For example, Pittsburgh is favored over Cleveland today by six points. And yet no one has suggested canceling the game on the grounds that it’s a foregone conclusion. Why? Because probability is not destiny. On any given Sunday, as the saying goes, it’s possible for any team to win, and possible for any team to be beaten. A quarterback may be injured early in the game. A field-goal kicker may lose his concentration at a critical moment. The "better" team might be demoralized by an interception, or a costly penalty. Anything can happen. And that’s why "unlikely" is not the same thing as "impossible".
That’s true of all sports. Who could forget the 1980 Olympics and the "Miracle on Ice," the hockey game between the USA and the heavily favored USSR? The Americans were amateurs, unknowns, while the Russians were full-time professional athletes, the Soviet equivalent of an NHL all-star team. No contest. And yet, somehow, incredibly, when the clock ran out, Team USA had scored four goals to their opponents’ three. I remember that game. I was in college, and I recall standing in the packed lounge of our dorm. I can still hear the crowd chanting, "U-S-A! U-S-A!" and Jim McKay, the announcer, yelling "do you believe in miracles," as the final seconds ran out.
We read stories like this all the time. Underdogs who become champions. People who defy the odds to accomplish what no one thought possible. Climbing Mount Everest has become a symbol for this kind of quest. In 1998, Tom Whittaker, a man with an artificial foot, became the first disabled person to complete the ascent. And just last year, in May of 2001, a man named Erik Weihenmeyer became the first blind climber to reach the summit. Can you imagine that? Climbing Mount Everest without even being able to see it?
But the most inspiring stories aren’t those of Olympic champions or world-class mountaineers. Most of us will never compete for a gold medal, or stand triumphantly on top of the world’s highest peak. No, the stories which really hit home are those of men and women who overcome great obstacles just to do ordinary things; things that you and I take for granted. I’m thinking of a man named Bill Porter, whose life was portrayed by actor William H. Macy in the recent TV movie, "Door to Door". Bill was born with cerebral palsy, which made it difficult for him to speak clearly, or to walk, or to use his right arm. He was told that he would never be able to hold a job; never be able to take care of himself. The social service agencies labeled him as "unemployable". They told him his only option would be to collect government disability checks for the rest of his life. But Bill wouldn’t listen. He applied for a job with the Watkins company, selling household products door-to-door. At first, they turned him down, but he persisted. He offered to take the worst territory in the city, an area no other salesman wanted, just to have the chance to prove himself. Finally, they relented and gave him a job. Straight commission, no salary. Bill walked ten miles a day, ringing doorbell after doorbell, fighting against his crippled body; fighting against pain, and weakness, and fatigue - not to mention the difficulties of just speaking, just communicating with people. When he made a sale, he had to have the customer fill out the order form, because he couldn’t hold a pen to write. And yet, he succeeded. He became the company’s top salesman, first in that city, then in the region, and finally in the entire country. He achieved all this, even though he couldn’t tie his own shoes or button his own collar. Imagine. A man who has difficulty speaking and walking, thinking that he could make a career for himself - as a door-to-door salesman, of all things! It’s ridiculous! And yet, that’s exactly what he did, and has done, for more than forty years. Bill doesn’t define himself as disabled. Nor does he view himself as some kind of hero. He’s just someone who has a job to do, and who gets up every morning and does it, whether he feels like it or not. And in its own way, that is truly heroic.